Otamatea Christian School/Supplied
Otamatea Christian School was closed for a week after Cyclone Gabrielle hit, tearing the roof off one of the classrooms.
A school classroom has been left without a roof after wind from Cyclone Gabrielle ripped it clean off.
Otamatea Christian School in Maungaturoto – a Christian school catering to students from low-income families – battled “extremely” strong winds and heavy rain during the peak of the storm earlier this month.
After a turbulent start to the school year, students from year 1-13 at the rural Northland school now need to huddle together in one large room, doors away from their classrooms which had been “torn to shreds”.
Principal Mark Bell said strong winds lashed the school when the cyclone first arrived in New Zealand on Sunday, February 6.
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The following day several children couldn’t get into school because of slips on the roads and flooding, so they were forced to close.
“Then the winds came in big time on Monday night, and tore everything to shreds,” he said.
One classroom had its roof completely torn off, he said, and another room had half the length of the roof detached. A third room is devoid of a back-wall, with a third of the roof missing.
“One roof landed on the sandpit in the playground, completely demolishing the swing-set and making it unusable. They were made of big wooden posts, and it crushed them like nothing,” Bell said.
“Our fluorescent lights were also smashed through the sandpit and needed to be dug out.”
He said it was “devastating” to see the full extent of the damages.
Slips close SH1 at Brynderwyn Hill and flooding persists along SH14 in Tangiteroria after Cyclone Gabrielle brought intense rain. (First published 16 February)
“I didn’t think there was any chance we would recover from it. We’re a very small school in rural Northland with a student population of 30.
“A lot of the planning for this term has all been destroyed. We can’t access anything.”
Northland was one of the areas worst hit by the cyclone, recording 250-400mm of rainfall and wind gusts of up to of 141kph across the region.
The school closed for a week after Cyclone Gabrielle hit, only resuming classes on February 21.
Bell said some areas of the school had been cordoned off, and with damage sustained to numerous rooms, the bulk of the teaching would take place in one big multipurpose classroom which had managed to remain unscathed.
“We’re having to teach in the main learning centre which is difficult with 5-year-olds all the way up to 18-year-olds in just one classroom.
“It is very inventive, but we’ve got no choice but to work around the mess.”
He said it would cost at least $50,000 for repairs which would have to be “a total rebuild”.
“It’s going to take several months – possibly a year – to finish. Thankfully most of the costs should be covered by insurance, the only thing not covered are the costs of rebuilding the playground.”
The insurance company would also eventually replace teaching resources, Bell said.
“But the tricky thing is, we need them now. We’re a very small school with a very small budget. We’ve got to find ways of getting the stuff we need now.”
Isabel Evans Ministry of Education Hautū (leader) Te Tai Raro (North) said: “Our Te Mahau (regional) office contacted Otamatea Christian School to check their status and wellbeing.
“We understand the process of repairing the damage currently sits with the school insurers. The ministry does not own private school property. The school manager is responsible for all property maintenance and modifications.”
A givealittle page has been set up to raise funds for school equipment, furniture and school supplies.